This installment is the latest in a series of conversations with colleagues and friends of Ivan Illich. For over thirty years, David Cayley worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, producing numerous interview and documentary programs, including two programs devoted to Illich’s work.
Apologies if I went off at a tangent about the rot starting with Benedict. I listened to the Critical Orthodoxy programme again, which makes it clear (I think) that Illich thought things went off the rails with Duns Scotus, after Aquinas. Not sure what DS said to make that happen. The key I think is TA’s revelation (6 December 1263, I think) that all he had done / written / thought to that point was “straw”. He then shut up and died 3 months later.
And all this led me to Cayley’s 5 part series on Simone Weil, which is wonderful, especially Part 4
Great conversation. I was struck by, among other things, the reasons Illich resisted the genre of biography.
Thank you both for a wonderful conversation. I'm still trying to work out in what sense Illich felt himself to be orthodox - perhaps I need to go back to the Corruption of Christianity talks - and where does orthodoxy begin / end? Pre- or post- Nicaea, or pre- or post Aquinas et al . . . he seemed to object to Vatican II because it didn't go far enough!
Michael, this is a poem I wrote not long ago that brought an answer to part of a question I had been given to carry. I have neglected to share it with David — and I should share it with everyone here too. It is from Ivan and the people who introduced me to him.
Conditions for Community
There must be a threshold to cross to a place of invitation.
There must be a candle for the absent one, like the fifth cup
for Elijah. You must share a common meal and sit face-to-face,
waiting to receive your own image in the gaze of another.
This patient listening might form trust, a conspiracy of peace,
between Radhošť and Radegast, the mountain and the god.
Welcome can cultivate a seedbed for conviviality, eudaemonia,
good living — but only grow if you can receive yourself
as the gift of someone who has read you and written over
your story, marring your self-conception, that puppet drawn
from the flow of your life, how you wish to be seen.
If you can let yourself be distorted by love,
if you can suffer your friends suffering you,
if you can receive, then may dead worlds live again.
I pause over Cayley’s words that Illich has a radical and revolutionary claim about the west, Christianity, its church snd churches, and the state leading into the suicidal coloniality-modernity that is undoing possibly all life on earth.
I do not experience it as radical or revolutionary and never have. It is those things but mainly from the standpoint of denial and opposition. To experience Illich (much like the Christ of the gospels) is to take a side with the disciples or the menacing crowds.
It is not novel or surprising but intuitive and clear — obvious in its rudiments and full of the sense of recollection or recognition. “Ah yes, that is it, as we know so deeply in our bones.” That is my experience of Illich and a few others like him.
Also intrigued that DC thinks the rot starts with Benedict (as in the corruption of the best), particularly as I live in a lay Benedictine contemplative community